Cancer can develop in several structures in the eye area. These include:
Eyeball: The structures inside the eye where cancer can develop include the choroid, ciliary body, iris and retina.
Uvea is the middle layer of the eyeball. It contains the:
- Iris: The colored part of the eye. The pupil, a small opening that lets light come into the eyeball, is in the middle of the iris
- Choroid: Thin layer around the eyeball that provides the eye with blood
- Ciliary body: Made up of muscles inside eye that help it focus and cells where aqueous humor (clear liquid in front of eye) begins
- Retina: The layer of cells in the back of the eye. The retina is connected by the optic nerve to the brain. Its cells are sensitive to light and help us see images. When light comes into the eye, it passes through the lens. This makes an image on the retina, which is then sent by the optic nerve to the brain.
Orbit: The space around and behind the eye has bony walls and contains important nerves, including the optic nerve, and muscles that move the eye.
Eyelid: Tumors that affect eyelids can be on the skin of the eyelid or on the inside layer of the eyelid (tarsus and conjunctiva).
Conjunctiva: Surface covering of the eye that also covers the inside of the eyelid
Lacrimal gland: The gland, which makes tears, is in the upper outer quadrant of the orbit.
Lacrimal sac/duct: This structure, which drains the tears, is in the inner lower quadrant of the orbit near the nose.
Eye Cancer Types
Many types of cancer can affect the eye and the ocular structures.
Cancers involving the eyeball include:
- Uveal melanoma (melanoma of the iris, choroid or ciliary body)
- Retinoblastoma, which is the most frequent type of cancer affecting the eyeball in children
Cancers of the eyelids and surrounding skin include:
- Basal cell carcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma
- Sebaceous carcinoma
- Merkel cell carcinoma
- Adnexal carcinoma
Cancers of the conjunctiva (surface covering of eyeball) include:
- Squamous cell carcinoma
- MALT lymphoma
Orbital cancers include:
- Orbital lymphoma
- Orbital sarcoma (including rhabdomyosarcoma, myxoid sarcoma, alveolar soft part sarcoma)
- Orbital and optic nerve meningioma
- Metastatic tumors of the orbit
- Other carcinomas of the orbit
Lacrimal gland tumors include:
- Lymphoma of lacrimal gland
- Adenoid cystic carcinoma of lacrimal gland
- Pleomorphic adenoma of lacrimal gland
- Other epithelial tumors of lacrimal gland
Lacrimal sac and nasolacrimal duct cancers include:
- Squamous cell carcinomas of lacrimal sac
- Transitional cell carcinoma of lacrimal sac and duct
- Lacrimal sac lymphoma
Eye Cancer Risk Factors
Anything that increases your chance of getting eye cancer is a risk factor. Certain factors seem to increase the odds you might get cancer in the eye or on the eyelid or orbital area.
- Light skin and/or blue eyes
- Exposure to sun or tanning salons may increase risk of carcinomas or melanomas on your eyelid.
- Exposure to certain viruses such as human papilloma virus (HPV) may increase the risk of squamous cell carcinoma of conjunctiva.
- Atypical mole and melanoma syndrome (AMS): Previously known as dysplastic nevus syndrome, AMS is characterized by large numbers of atypical moles.
Not everyone with these risk factors gets ocular cancers. However, if you have risk factors, it’s a good idea to discuss them with your health care provider.